Candice & Patrick
“There is definitely more than one in here”, the medical technician was saying as she moved the sensor across my abdomen during my sonogram. With that my husband Tom and I found out we were expecting twins during my fifteenth week of my first pregnancy. It was totally unexpected because there are no twins in our families. I immediately felt like we had won the lottery and could hardly think of anything else for the next 6 months. Although very excited by the prospect of twins, I was aware of the increased risks of miscarriage and prematurity and avoided preparations until the third trimester.
I had an uneventful pregnancy and was able to work until a couple weeks before the delivery. At 37-1/2 weeks, I delivered a little girl weighing 6 lbs. 14 oz. and a little boy weighing 6 lb. 13 oz. I was very proud of the birth weights and experienced great elation in calling friends and relatives to inform them that Candice and Patrick had arrived. The first few weeks were exhausting, recovering from a c-section and meeting the demands of two newborns. Relatives arrived and did the housework while I settled into a routine of round-the-clock nursing. I soon became accustomed to doing every task twice, and when my help went home, I found that I was developing an efficiency that I had never possessed before.
Candice and Patrick had distinct personalities from the beginning. Patrick seemed to be all little boy and Candice was all little girl, and the combination of personalities seemed perfect. Patrick, always hungry, was more demanding and boisterous and within a few days of birth became decidedly chubby. Candice was more sedate and gained weight slowly. Within a few weeks of birth, the babies began smiling and responding to us. I was enthralled with my babies and with the experience of motherhood. My husband and I took the twins out shopping and on other expeditions, and needless to say, we were always the center of attention. We were thoroughly enjoying our experience as the parents of twins.
I had established a career, and had always assumed that I would be a working “supermom”. I found a babysitter who cared for infants in her home, and since she had two teenage daughters and her mother helping her at times, I thought that the babies would receive plenty of attention. Although I had mixed feelings about leaving the babies, I decided to try working part-time when the babies were 14 weeks old. The first day was uneventful. The second morning, I dropped the babies off, touching Patrick on the cheek and getting a sleepy smile as I walked out the door. I spent part of the morning telling my co-workers about the babies and showing off their pictures.
Before lunch, I received a call from a man who identified himself as the sheriff and said, “Your son Patrick is having a little trouble breathing. Could you go to the hospital?” and my world fell apart. I tried to keep my mind blank as I drove, hoping that Patrick was having some sort of asthma attack, but it didn’t make any sense. When I arrived, a nurse took me aside into an office and told me that the doctors were still working on him, and I became profoundly numb. Presently, the doctor came in and told me Patrick was dead, and I asked “Where is my other baby?” thinking that the babysitter might have sent her along too, but nobody was aware that Patrick was a twin. I then asked to see Patrick, thinking that I could still be with him somehow. The still, lifeless shell was nothing like my little boy, and I tried to absorb the reality that I had said my final goodbye to him that morning, a moment I would have given anything to return to. I held the little shape briefly, then the phone rang, and I had to tell my unsuspecting husband that our baby was dead. The nurse took me back to the office and I waited, in a deep state of shock, for Tom and the coroner to arrive.
The doctor’s assessment was SIDS because there was no apparent cause of death. I had heard of SIDS, but I was astounded because I thought SIDS was something that happened to tiny, helpless newborns, not to big, healthy boys who cried lustily one moment and gave me a big smile the next. I was not at all aware that 3 months was the time of greatest risk for SIDS. Tom arrived, and then the coroner who began questioning us. He explained that the term SIDS technically means that no cause of death can be found after a thorough investigation and autopsy, and several weeks later when these were complete, we were informed that the finding was SIDS.
Upon leaving the hospital, we were faced with many horrendous tasks, the first of which was picking up Candice from the babysitter’s. All I wanted to do was to grab Candice and run, but I knew we had to hear the babysitter’s story and see where Patrick died. She described how she thought she heard Patrick stirring during a nap and sent her 13-year-old daughter to check on him. Her daughter found him blue and unresponsive, and the babysitter immediately called the paramedics and began mouth to mouth resuscitation. Although I felt too numb to comfort the babysitter, I told her that I knew it was as hard for her as it was for us, then we made the indescribably bleak journey home carrying Candice and the empty carseat that had held Patrick a few hours earlier. Later that day I asked a volunteer whose phone number I had been given in the emergency room to call the babysitter since I thought it would be helpful to have some objective person talk to her about SIDS.
When we got home, we had the joyless task of calling relatives, then our pediatrician who arranged for Candice to be admitted to a hospital for tests to see if she was “normal”. Although it was exhausting to spend the night in the hospital, it was a blessing to not have to be in our home which felt so empty. We went home with Candice on an apnea monitor, although we understood that there are no tests to predict SIDS and no treatments or devices known to prevent SIDS. Funeral arrangements followed, then the difficult process of trying to fit back into the normal world when nothing felt normal.
One of the most difficult aspects of SIDS is that the parents are thrown from the most joyous time in their lives to the most painful. I was at an emotional peak following the birth of my babies, and I felt very special being the mother of twins. When the unforseen, unimaginable death occurred, the letdown was very severe. Although intellectually I knew the baby was gone, it was very hard work to actually internalize the fact. Until some of this work was done, I went through the mechanics of living but I did not feel like I was part of the world. The abrupt absence of my baby threw me into intense withdrawal. It seemed like I had abandoned him and it felt like part of me was dead.
Part of the grieving process involves examining every aspect of one’s life over and over in light of the drastic change which has occured. I had to process the fact that I no longer had twins, and would never see the babies interact or grow up together. I had let down all my relatives who were so excited about having twins in the family. One of the most heartbreaking ideas was that the babies were now permanently separated. I spent several weeks with this thought constantly running through my head, “Candice and Patrick can’t be together anymore.”
Many things in my daily life became painful. Since I still had a baby, every one I met assumed that I was an ecstatic young mother. Patrick quickly became a nonentity, and although I continued to try to introduce the subject into conversations, people rarely said anything to acknowledge my loss. The message I received was that since I had a baby, it was no big deal that one had died. It was too difficult for me to return to work, and within a few weeks, people started cheerfully asking if I was “enjoying” staying home with my baby. I once enjoyed interacting with other new mothers, but now seeing the other mothers enjoying their babies reminded me of the way things used to be, and I felt I had nothing in common with them. It was unbearable to stay home, and I found it helpful to have something on my calendar every day, forcing me to get out and act normal. I did join in activities with other mothers and babies, although I derived little enjoyment from it.
Within a few weeks, I began to attend support groups for people who had lost infants. From my SIDS group, I learned that my situation was not unusual; in fact, SIDS is one of the leading causes of death of children. I was amazed to learn that more children die under the age of 1 from SIDS than die between the ages of 1 to 15 from all other illnesses combined. I also discovered that the scenario of the baby dying in day care was not unique after meeting other mothers with similar stories. The time of peak risk for SIDS (2-4 months) coincides with the end of maternity leave for many mothers; this seemed to me to be a glaring omission in the countless articles in magazines and newspapers I had seen offering advice on “Finding Quality Daycare” , “Combining Motherhood and Career”, etc.
Somehow, I managed to get through the long days and months following the funeral and my world gradually became brighter. Candice was joined by a baby brother two years later. I feel that SIDS has put me on a totally different path in life, one that I never would have chosen, but since I am here, I have to make the best of it.
…Candice was joined by a brother Nolan and a sister Aubree Gayle two years later, just after Candice and Patrick’s 4th birthday. Alice has chosen to remain at home with her children until they are older. She chose to monitor Nolan, but when Aubree came was not so sure that the false alarms, bothering with leads and wires, and the other difficulties of using a monitor seemed worth it anymore. Candice is now a lively teenager.
SIDS Strikes a Twin
For Patrick, Christmas Day, 1987
My brother, close by, and I from the start,
Feel warm and protected, near mother’s heart
I am the first born, he follows along,
Our bond with each other and mother grows strong.
I dream of growing together,
sharing childhood’s delights,
of wonders discovered, stars dotting dark nights,
of learning, so proud on our first day of school
of laughter, splashing through waves wild and cool.
Why is mother crying? I’m lost and alone,
His cradle, now empty, so close to my own,
In grief’s shadow, the joy of new life
disappears, My sweet dreams dissolve in a puddle of tears,
I see a void, my dear brother, in each day to come,
Though our bond has been severed, I must go on.
Patrick Ryan Check
April 26, 1987 – August 4, 1987
Beloved son of Tom &Alice
Twin brother of Candice Nicole
To My Twin Who Left Too Soon
I see two dates upon a stone,
A beginning and an end.
The beginning one, the same as mine,
The ending time,
A while ago, we shared a womb,
Then from life’s cup, we drank,
And then so soon,
I was alone.
See? Your ending date is set in stone,
While mine is still a blank.
It was too soon, you went away,
You’re missing all the fun.
I sing and dance and run and play,
So much to do, in rain or sun.
How could your day be done?
I see two dates upon a stone,
A beginning and an end.
I hold life’s cup filled to the top,
I want to drink in every drop!
But when my final day is known,
I know I’ll find a friend.
For Candice (b. April 26, 1987)
&Patrick ( b. April 26, 1987 d. August 4, 1987)
Alice Check (March, 1994)
A child was born, my very own
A love unlocked, with depths unknown
A cherished child, unique and new
A heavenly dream, coming true
An unseen hand, struck that day
Shattered the dream, swept it away
A child was lost, a heart was torn
One life unlived, one life transformed
Do not lock up that love again
Cling to it throughout the pain
A dawn will break when pain has passed
The legacy of love will last
For Patrick Ryan Check, April 26 -August 4, 1987
Alice Check, February 1995
You only knew one birthday,
a day of joy and awe,
our long-awaited miracle
unveiled without a flaw.
No candles on a festive cake
would ever light up your eyes,
on that day, you were the gift
to cherish throughout our lives.
You only knew two seasons,
you came to us in spring,
you felt the gentle breezes
and warmth that sunshine brings.
No swirling dance of snowflakes
or days of Christmas cheer,
before the first leaf fluttered down,
you were no longer here.
You were unique, the only one
who ever could have been
big brother to those yet to come
or soulmate of your twin.
Though we cling to happy times,
our heartache never ends,
this family has a missing link,
that only God can mend.
For Patrick Ryan Check,
who came in spring and died in summer of SIDS
April 26 – August 4, 1987
Sadly missed by his mother, father, twin sister, and little brother &sister…
Alice Check, March 1995
After the loss of her son, Alice met and later interviewed a girl whose twin sister died of SIDS…
Recently I talked with a 12-year-old girl, Jennifer, who is a surviving twin of a SIDS victim, about what it is like growing up without her twin sister. Since the death of one of my twins from SIDS in 1987, I have often wondered what it is like for a child to grow up knowing that someone with whom he or she had shared everything from the time of conception and in some cases was a genetic duplicate, was only here for a short while. I also wonder if I’m taking the right approach in teaching my surviving twin about her brother’s existence. It is important to me that my son be remembered, but perhaps in my eagerness to insure that my daughter grows up with an awareness of her twin, I am exposing her to too much knowledge about death at too early an age. I appreciated the opportunity to talk to a thoughtful young girl who is old enough to both understand and articulate what it has been like to be the surviving twin.
Jennifer Lee and Kimberly Ann were fraternal twins, born one month premature on October 15, 1977. Kimberly died during a family outing in the car on December 29, 1977. During the outing, their mother fed Jennifer first because she was “the rotten one, who always had to be fed first,” and when she went to feed Kimberly, she discovered that the baby was not breathing. Jennifer feels that she remembers her twin sister and can picture an instance in which she, her twin sister and her older sister Karen were all together being fed. She is not sure if this is an actual memory or is an image that formed in her mind after being told about it.
While growing up Jennifer has always imagined her sister as being the same age as she is. She feels a sense of loss because she has missed out on the “neat” experience of having a twin sister who would also be her “best friend”. She also wonders how her family life would be different with a “whole other person” present; if the family would still live in the same house, if they would be “richer or poorer”. She still spends time thinking about what her sister would have been like. Last year, Jennifer decided she would like to change her name, and she and her “friends on the bus”, after trying various combinations of her and her twin’s names, settled on Jennifer LeeAnn.
Jennifer and her family commemorate her sister’s life with visits to the cemetery near the birthday, and after Christmas. When she was young, Jennifer took toys to her twin’s grave figuring “it was her birthday too”, and the family takes their wreaths to the grave after Christmas. She is close to her father at these times, as they both stand at the grave and cry and talk about what she would have been like. They also like to lay a wreath in the water during the “Fleet of Flowers” ceremony near her grandparents’ home which honors those lost at sea.
As she was growing up, Jennifer remembers occasional discussions about her twin with her mother, and asking questions about it “every now and then”. The subject still comes up sometimes. She remembers that when she started school, she met other twins in her class. She would tell people that she was a twin, and when the person asked where her twin was, she would reply “I don’t know” because she didn’t know how to explain it. She also told people that she had two sisters, Kim and Karen, and people would get “mad” at her because she couldn’t explain where her one sister was. Eventually she started telling people that her sister died.
Jennifer does not usually try to tell people about her sister unless the subject comes up for some reason. She first tells people that her sister died of “SIDS” and if they don’t understand she will say “crib death”. If they still don’t understand, she will explain that her sister stopped breathing when she was a baby. People sometimes act like they do not believe her. Jennifer does not like to try to explain it to people who don’t understand. Last year, a teacher assigned the class to a composition on “Your Earliest Memories”. Jennifer wrote about her twin sister but was uncomfortable when the teacher later read her work to the class.
Some things that have been difficult for Jennifer are books like the Sweet Valley Twins series, and an event at her school called “Twins Day”. She particularly remembers a “Twins Day” in kindergarten when all the twins dressed alike, and she could not participate. In later years, the school still had Twins Day occasionally, but it has been changed so that any students can dress alike if they wish. It does not bother Jennifer to have friends who are twins.
It is encouraging to know that in spite of the death of her twin in infancy, Jennifer feels that she has had a normal childhood, although she thinks it might have been different if the loss had occurred at a later age.